The South Korean Nth Room Scandal; Victim As Young As 9

If you haven’t heard yet, South Korea is in turmoil over the revelation of the “Nth Room”. It is a horrifying discovery involving underaged victims, powerful figures and unlawful acts. Here’s all you need to know about the “Nth Room”.

 

The Nth Room Explained

Recent investigations have uncovered a series of chatrooms involved in the distribution of material depicting sexual abuse. This is done via the app, Telegram, which is known to encode all of the information that is exchanged through it. A user with the name “Baksa” (meaning “professor” or “doctor”) was found to be operating a series of closed chat rooms to facilitate his lucrative business. The chatrooms were of various “tiers” – 1st room, 2nd room, 3rd room and so on. Depending on how much users would pay, they would be assigned to a tier. Users who paid ₩100,000 (~RM356.84)  would only be allowed into the 1st room, with the “least” abusive content. Those who could afford to would pay up to ₩1,500,000 (~RM5,352.67) to gain access to the highest tiered room, which had the most abusive videos. with access to the “most” abusive videos. It is estimated that almost 260,000 have entered these chatrooms, with The Korea Cyber Sexual Violence Response Center citing 56 different chat rooms that extorted similar content along with spy-cam images or photos of women.

 

How Nth Room Operated

Photo from Asia Times/Andrew Salmon

 

Cho Joo Bin is a 25-year-old and the chief editor of his school’s newspaper graduated with a GPA of 4.17 out of 4.5 from the Information and Communication programme at Inha Technical College. He also volunteered at an orphanage. But he since December 2018, he’s made a living exploiting as “Baksa”, the moderator for the Nth room. They would pry on young women who were seeking a quick buck and capitalised those from lower-income families.

 

However, one of the ways Baksa and “his operators” would find his victims is through Twitter. He would tweet them under the guise of pointing them to a website that might have exposed their private identities/ circulated their private pictures. The website link would then take them to a decoy site that looked like Twitter, where the victims would then have to log into their Twitter accounts. The link would ask them to enter their personal details (i.e. phone number, address) to ensure that their account is secured, giving Baksa and his accomplices’ access to their personal data. They would then threaten to release the victims’ personal information online unless they were sent nude photographs. Once they had these, the blackmail escalated. Initially, victims would be asked to take videos of themselves undressing and masturbating. These videos would then be distributed amongst the “lower-tier” Nth rooms.

 

With these, they would then blackmail victims into doing worse acts. From there, they would then be pressured into masochistic acts from both Baksa and the users in the chat room. Users in the chat could demand the “act” they wanted to see from the girls; Baksa and his associates would get it done by threatening the girls involved. These would then be distributed amongst the “higher-tier” rooms.

 

Because of this, it wasn’t just the victims that were blackmailed, users of the chatrooms were also targeted. The Korea Herald has also reported Baksa of having secured “private information about the victims and chatroom members through administrative aides at local government offices to blackmail the users and victims.”

 

What It’s Like As A Victim (Warning: The following contains the graphic, disturning true account of sexual abuse via the Nth Room.)

Recently, one of the victims of the Nth Room scandal sat down with CBS’s radio show Kim Hyun Jung‘s News Show to describe her ordeal.

 

The victim was in Middle School (Grades 7 – 9, between the age of 12 to 16). Lacking the money to fund her living expenses, she looked up chatting applications before finding one. A message soon followed, “Hello, I am looking for a part-timer for a sponsored job, I am offering 4,000,000 a month. If you are interested, contact me”. After talking to the person, she was then directed to download Telegram so that could continue their conversation there. Once on Telegram, he proceeded to ask for her bank account details so he could send her money. To gain her trust, he sent an image of his “stocks” and a screengrab of the money being credited into her account, which would then take 5 days to get to her. He then asked for her address and phone number to send her a new phone. Suddenly, she found herself having shared all of her personal details with this stranger.

 

That’s when the sexual requests came in. Initially only requestion for a picture of her body, he went on to ask for one that included her face. When she refused, he coerced her with the fact that he had bought her a present (the phone) and that she shouldn’t refuse because of it. Feeling pressured, she relented. From there, things escalated. She was told to touch herself, then to do so in her school uniform, put on stockings and rip them and then,  to use school supplies like a thick pen. As a result of this, she started bleeding and tried to relay the fact that she couldn’t bear the pain. But, her abuser wouldn’t let her stop. She found that she had no choice – he had her personal details, face and voice to threaten her with. In the end, she made more than 40 videos. Since then, she’s suffered with bipolar disorder and depression.

 

She is not alone in this violent ring of operations. Other “slaves” forced to carve the word “slave” onto their own skins, eat faeces, cut off their nipples, and insert items such as scissors up their private parts. Some users even paid to rape the victims themselves.

 

It is said that payments were done using cryptocurrencies, to make tracing the payments harder.

 

What’s Happening Now

A reporter for BBC Korea, Hyung Eun Kim has shared in a Tweet that the Nth Room was first brought to light by two college students who wanted to take part in an investigative journalism competition.

 

 

Since then, it has become one of the biggest scandals Korea has ever seen. New information is cropping up on the daily. A petition for Baksa’s identity to be revealed gained over 2 million signatures, putting pressure on the police. And when  journalists for the Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS) were about to publish their coverage of Baksa on their channel, they were sent this threatening message,

If anything relating Baksa goes on air on SBS, one woman will jump to death or set herself on fire and die. No matter what is the means of the accident is, I have notified you about it and captured it as proof.”

However, since then, his identity has become known to the public. Sporting a neck brace, Cho Joo Bin was brought confronted by reporters outside Seoul’s Jongno Police Station where he was quoted saying,

Thank you for stopping my unstoppable life as a devil”

He also extended an apology to three South Koreans in the fields of media and politics, “sincerely apologizing” to them for undisclosed reasons, but never once mentioning the victims.

 

Some 124 arrests have been made in the case, with 18 suspects having been formally detained. The police have also revealed that they have detained a 16-year-old teen who has formed similar chat groups with the name Pacific Expedition. The groups have an estimate of 8,000 to 20,000 members and circulate photos and videos that classify as “child pornography”. The Korea Herald reported that the 16-year-old formed the group after falling out with operators of a similar group, with Baksa being one of them. The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency is in search of another man involved who goes by the moniker ‘God God.’

 

As of yet, 76 female victims have been identified, 16 of which were minors (the youngest being 9 years old). Some of the users of the chat rooms are said to include famous entertainers/artists, sports stars, and CEOs from popular establishments.

 

How To Help

Since the news came out, people around the world have banded together to show the victims support. Prominent stars like Girl’s Day‘s Hyeri and Sojin, actress Moon Ga Young, VIXX‘s Ravi, KARD‘s BM, INFINITE‘s Hoya, Wonder Girls‘ Hyelim, 15&‘s Park Jimin, SECRET‘s Hyosung, 2PM‘s Junho, 2AM‘s Jo Kwon, EXO‘s Baekhyun and Chanyeol, CNBLUE‘s Jung Yonghwa, and more have spoken up to raise awareness of the situation. Petitions have been set up, calling for the exposure of the users of the chat rooms as well as to change the presiding judge (who has faced intense criticism for his leniency on sex-related criminal cases).

 

Sharing facts and raising awareness through your social media platforms will, hopefully, aid in the capture and judgement of the perpetrators. Signing the Blue House petitions (official petitions) to the South Korean government would also help.

 

If you have faced a similar situation or have experienced abuse/exploitation at the hands of others, please go to the police (999) or talk to someone you trust. You can also call the Women’s Aid Organisation at +603 7956 3488, Talian Kasih at 15999 or on WhatsApp at +6019 2615 999.

 

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